Seeing kids dying daily 'gets to you'

16:00, Jan 29 2014
Chatu Yapa
REWARDING WORK: Chatu Yapa in the Philippines.

Witnessing children die didn't make Chatu Yapa lose hope in her profession.

Instead the the 28-year-old medical doctor gained a stronger desire to help those in need.

The Blockhouse Bay resident has travelled to South Sudan, Iraq and the Philippines with Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders.

The international medical humanitarian organisation provides assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence or neglect because of armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters.

Miss Yapa had her first taste of travel with the organisation in 2012 after spending six months in South Sudan as a medical doctor.

She was based at a hospital with 90 beds and arrived in the peak of diarrhoea season, resulting in many malnourished children.


"We had a child die every day within the first couple of weeks I was there.

"It was awful and you feel really stuck. Witnessing death on a daily basis for months really gets to you," she says.

"It's not like seeing kids die here. When children die over there you know it could have been prevented through earlier hospital admission or clean drinking water.

"But you have to distract yourself from getting too emotionally attached and know that if we weren't there many more would be dying."

Her next mission with the organisation took her to Iraq for another six months last year where she worked in Syrian refugee camps.

A week after returning to New Zealand from Iraq the devastating typhoon Haiyan struck and Miss Yapa found herself aiding others in the middle of turmoil in the Philippines.

Building inflatable hospitals in Tanauan and Tacloban - the worst hit area - was a priority.

Once regular supplies and cargo came in Miss Yapa was able to set up mobile clinics in the form of road side tarpaulins to attend to the wounded with antibiotics, pain relief and bandages.

Miss Yapa worked at Middlemore Hospital before joining Medecins Sans Frontieres and will move to Sydney next month to study a masters in epidemiology.

Medecins Sans Frontieres recruitment officer Jenny Cross says working abroad with the organisation helps medical professionals to develop critical skills like treating uncommon diseases and caring for patients with limited resources.

"Doctors have to rely on clinical diagnostic skills because often there are no labs for blood tests.

"People test and challenge themselves and realise they can step out of their comfort zone. It adds value to the work they do back home as they see things in a broader perspective," she says.

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Western Leader